The ultimate aim of any gadget should be to make your life a little easier, and that's exactly what the winners in the Smart Home category at the T3 Awards 2021 do. With more time spent at home in the last year than we'd all probably prefer, upgrading your your place with cool extra tricks has been a great way to keep things fresh, and these products have all offers great ways to do that.
Whether you want a smart speaker to chat to (and that plays music), a new way to enhance your home's lighting, a way to add smart control to dumb appliances, or just better and more stable Wi-Fi around the house, we've got the best ways to do all of this right here.
There are some very cool world-firsts recognised here, with the releases over the last year proving that there are still more ideas to come from smart home gadgets, even now that the category feels like it's grown into a mature part of the world of technology, and is no longer the weird upstart.
Best Smart Speaker: Amazon Echo Show 10
Listen, we're not giving the Amazon Echo Show 10 the prestigious Best Smart Speaker title at the T3 Awards 2021 just for having a never-before-seen feature that's impossibly futuristic and cool… but it certainly does't hurt.
Amazon's smart display has a screen built around a circular base, and the screen actually turns to follow when you move around the room, so that you can still see what's on it clearly, or so that someone you're video calling can still see you. It moves smoothly and nearly silently, and the accuracy of the way it tracks you is remarkable – when you say "Hey Alexa", it uses the direction of your voice to locate you, and immediately spins the screen that way. We've never seen anything quite like it before.
Of course, it's also just generally the best smart speaker more broadly, thanks to Alexa's ever-improving intelligence, an impressive sound system, excellent mic accuracy, and the fantastic range of Alexa Skills as well as what's built into the assistant natively.
In our full Amazon Echo Show 10 review, we said that it "sets a new high bar for Echo devices" – it's a real showpiece of smart home design, and a worthy winner.
The Best Smart Speaker shortlist
Amazon Echo Show 10
Bang & Olufsen Beosound Balance
Apple HomePod Mini
Amazon Echo (4th gen)
Google Nest Audio
Audio Pro G10
Best Smart Lighting: Philips Hue
Recently, the competition in the smart lighting game has heated up again (well, not literally since they're all LED bulbs), particularly from more affordable options. Despite that, Philips Hue's innovative new products and all-new app mean it battles off the contenders to win the Best Smart Lighting title at the T3 Awards 2021.
This year, it really impressed with the introduction of its Gradient Lightstrip, which can be used in conjunction with its Hue Play box to spread the colours from what you're watching on TV out onto your walls, by attaching your strip to the TV itself. Many readers will recognise this as being what the Ambilight does on Philips TVs… but now you can achieve it on any TV.
Then you have fascinating new designs such as the super-slim Signe lamp, and the expansions of Hue's excellent outdoor range, which has already picked up one of our Garden Living T3 Awards. And, of course, the app redesign we mentioned, which makes it easier than ever to create great lighting setups, and to control larger and larger systems.
It would be easy for Hue to rest on its laurels, but every year it introduces products that genuinely push its whole platform forward, keeping at the top of our list of the best smart bulbs, along with its many other ways to light your home.
The Best Smart Lighting shortlist
Best Smart Security: Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera
Arlo's cameras have been second-to-none for years when it comes to combining smarts and security, but that has meant they've carried large price tags. Not any more – the Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera is our T3 Awards 2021 winner for Best Smart Security by bringing the full Arlo experience at a much lower price.
You've got high-quality video at the core, of course, all captured totally wirelessly, thanks to the rechargeable battery pack. It works over Wi-Fi directly to your router, though you can use it with an Arlo base station if you prefer – this added flexibility compared to previous Arlo cameras is really welcome.
But the real winner here are the extra smarts you can add, using Arlo's cloud platform. The camera can distinguish between people, animals, vehicles and packages, and when it spots something, can tell you in the the notification what kind of thing it saw. You can even create rules so that you don't get notified if it sees an animal in your garden, but do if it sees a person. It's so, so useful.
Our full Arlo Essential Spotlight Cam review talks about all its other features, such as two-way talk, night vision, a spotlight, a built-in alarm and the weeks-long battery life – no wonder it's the best security camera for most people right now.
The Best Smart Security shortlist
Arlo Essential Indoor Camera
Arlo Essential Spotlight Camera
Ring Video Doorbell (2nd gen)
TP-Link Kasa KC115
TP-Link Tapo C100
Best Smart Energy Product: TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Slim Energy Monitoring KP115
Smart plugs are a key part of building up your smart home, because they enable you to add smarts to existing products. No need to replace everything right away to work with your smart speaker – upgrade what you have instead! And with some smart plugs, you can even monitor how much energy those products are using, giving you more control over your bills and carbon footprint.
The TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Slim Energy Monitoring KP115 is a smart plug that enables all of this in an especially small frame, for a great price. It can be controlled via the app or voice assistants, and it connects directly to your router over Wi-Fi, meaning that it can be controlled from outside the house.
Use it to make lamps work on a set schedule, or to see how much a portable air conditioner costs and to turn it on remotely before you get home, or just to make it easier to turn off something with an awkward socket placement.
The TP-Link Kasa KP115 works with Alexa and Google Assistant, is easy to set up and reliable, fits in any plug socket without sticking out ridiculously, and has a great app that makes it easy to monitor energy usage. It's the best smart plug, and as our full TP-Link Kasa 115 review makes clear, any smart home is enhanced by it, which is not something every connected home product can say.
The Best Smart Energy Product shortlist
Hive Radiator Valves
Tado Smart AC Control
TCP Smart Electric Radiator
TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Slim Energy Monitoring KP115
Best Home Networking Tech: Netgear Orbi WiFi 6
When it comes to blanketing your home in fast, reliable Wi-Fi, mesh networks are still the best and easiest way. And of those, the Netgear Orbi WiFi 6 reigns supreme, winning our T3 Awards 2021 gong for Best Home Networking Tech.
Each of its units is fairly large, but that's because they're full of powerful antennas, giving them excellent range and rock solid connection strength. With Wi-Fi 6 support, they'll give your devices as much speed as they can handle, too.
As our full Netgear Orbi Wifi 6 review says, "you're going to get the fastest possible wireless network connections around your home, and solve all your device congestion problems in one go." It's the best mesh network available today, and are a worthy winner of this award.
The Home Networking Tech shortlist
Eero Mesh WiFi
Netgear Orbi WiFi 6
TP-Link Deco P9
Google Nest Wifi
TP-Link Deco X60